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  • Writer's picturePearl


If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere—New York City. New York was once famous for succulent oysters. They were the main source of winter protein for Lenape Indians and settlers covering 220 million acres in New York harbor and creating the main navigational hazard of the time. The water was clear, swimmable, fishable, and vibrant. Fast forward 100 years, the population increased, wonders of engineering brought clean fresh water into the city, and waste contaminated the estuary. Fast forward another 100 years, with the clean water act and a lot of effort from industry, individuals, and government, the water quality is improving. Whales, once in the harbor, are now migrating closer to the coast over the last ten years and the biodiversity is increasing -- the harbor is coming back to life! The famed oysters are once again growing in New York Harbor with significant effort from the Billion Oysters project housed at the New York Harbor School.

In the mid-1800’s buildings in New York move from dumping waste from building windows into the street to methodically connecting to a sewer system that moves waste directly into the river. The amount of waste being put into the water is no longer diluted to healthy limits by the tides and currents of the harbor. This results in polluted, stinky, lifeless, turbid water by the turn of the 19th century. In 1969 the Chicago River, among others, catches on fire due to pollutants. Spurring the Federal government into radical action creating the Environmental Protection Agency and passing the Clean Water Act 3 years later, in 1972. With the goal of restoring the national waterways to a swimmable, drinkable, fishable state, raw sewage is no longer permitted to flow directly into waterways. Almost 30 years later, New York Harbor is clean enough to welcome back oysters.

Oysters are the temperate water coral reef. By eating plankton they will clear the currently brown water. They create habitat for other creatures to live in, spawn in, and hide in. All of these benefits increase the biodiversity building interest in New York Harbor, like the incredible interest in the Great Barrier reef of Australia. Imagine scuba diving on the Great New York Barrier Reef surrounded by kelp, oysters, eels, sturgeon, dolphins and whales to name a few.

Mike Fischer, founder of the New York Harbor School and co-founder of the Billion Oysters Project, believes teaming a disenfranchised education with degraded ecosystems is the way to get there. Access to New York Harbor is inhibited for many reasons:

· access to the water limited stunting the ability to accidently fall in love,

· it is really cold 6 months out of the year,

· the water way is very busy, and is still stinky and ugly, even with all the work done.

“If we keep teaching and training kids for a dozen years without nature as a central part it won’t work, we won’t teach kids who will take care of this place. If we keep trying to restore ecosystems without kids, it won’t work because we will continue to raise a group of people who don’t know about or care about local ecosystems” Mike Fischer said on the Green Dreamer podcast. Access to water and nature empowers kids to be resilient, problems solvers, and strong physically and mentally. Being in nature makes school fun and the value obvious in the moment of learning. Bring together education and the restoration of ecosystem will raise citizens who care and understand the value of swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters and the independence created by understanding and using them.

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